It is a rare treat when theatre becomes more than just seeing a play, but rather experiencing something profound and moving. Mountain Art Theatre and The Magnetic Theatre have come together to present a show that more than delivers the kind of theatre experience we all wish for each and every time we enter a space to be transported and transfixed.
The show Stupid F**king Bird by Aaron Posner is a loving and deeply diverting journey through Anton Chekhov's The Seagull. It is a recreation that also finds new and inventive ways to express the emotional depth, harrowing pathos, and razor precise wit of a classic piece of theatrical literature. From the jump, Allen T. Law's Conrad is aware of the audience, and openly acknowledges that this is a self-aware evening, and the exchange between the stage and the audience is one of practiced expectations.
That's a bluff, as nothing that follows is remotely predictable or meets the expectations of the audience. Rather, it dashes the expectations like a falling dead bird against jagged coastal rocks, and it rebuilds new anticipations that are met with roils of laughter, gasps of surprise, and leave the audience on the edges of their seats with an eager new expectation of what is to come next. Even the most informed fan of The Seagull are repeatedly surprised at how the familiar is morphed into clever turns.
Law's Conrad is so tightly coiled, and terminally love sick, that his spiral is often hard to watch. As an actor, I've never seen Law so fully committed to the point of making his inner turmoil and outer expressions of suffering so raw and so real that, by the end it is hard to look directly at him in his angst ridden spiral. It is impressive high wire act.
Dwight Chiles reminds us all of his charmingly perfect comic timing, and his ability to make an audience fall in love with him from the first line. It's a sad sack of a character, and Chiles's dumpy, dopey loser is hard to resist. It is no surprise that best laughs of the show come from the spot on delivery from Chiles, who knows how to deftly play the beats and moments with what looks to be effortless ease.
Samantha LeBrocq's post-modern emo punker with a pink ukulele and surprisingly chirpy songs filled with dark lyrical content is a perfect counter point to the otherwise tightly cloistered and tweedy crew that surrounds her. In many ways, she is the most accessible character to the audience, as we all collectively take this odd journey. She's at least deliberately odd in the way she presents herself, making her somehow feel more honest than most of those we observe, who all have secret longings bubbling underneath the often thin surfaces of their existences.
Steven Samuels delights as a wistful, aging doctor, who seems content, to accept his lot in life, yet has a deep emptiness within that threatens to haunt him should he ever let it reveal itself out loud. Samuels knows how to play up and down the emotional scales that his character is given, and makes what could be a one note character in a lesser performer's hands one of the most sincere and honest characters on stage.
David Anthony Yeates plays a middle-aged icon of literary greatness, who is a smooth, dapper intellectual seemingly in search of his own personal Lolita moment. He more than accomplishes that unspoken goal, and very nearly pays a price for it, before landing on his feet again. Yeates's native Irish tongue and easy swagger make him an imminently watch able performer as he slyly prowls the stage, with an air of mischief tempered by the ever-so subtle sense that he's a bit clueless when it comes down to it.
Tracey Johnston-Crum is a tower of power of the local stage, and plays a role suited to that achieved stature. She is endlessly fun to watch and be with in a theatrical setting. And she seems simultaneously aware of the sexiness she exudes, while also being on the verge of parodying that same sexiness for the sake of a good laugh. Without a hint of pretension, she spends the first half of the show, threatening to spill out of a too tight, one-too- many-buttons-undone, blouse, that keeps wanting to steal the focus. Only to be duped by the actor in control, who demands without having to say it that her "eyes and performance are up here."
The object of much angst, jealousy and lust is Josephine Thomas as the young, nubile actress that captivates Conrad to the point of self-destructive distraction. Thomas bubbles to the top of any scene she's in, and does so with a doe-eyed humbleness that lulls you into taking her for a pure-as- driven snow innocent. Then she turns and reveals a sudden depth and power, as a strong, confident woman, driving her own destiny without hesitation.
Henry Williamson the Third, has risen rapidly to the top of WNC directors, with his attention to detail, and clearly giddy academic love of material such as this. He delivers thinking persons theatre, but never loses sight of the entertainment aspect of the play. Just seeing his work should cause a whole host of local directors to start spending half their time looking over their shoulders in fear that he's coming their way. The game has been stepped up.
Once it is all said and done, with the tropes of the evening having been laid out so clearly, one would expect that an audience would not be overly wrapped up in the performance of the emotional truth of a play like Stupid F**king Bird. They've told us this is all a play. They know we're watching, and they often remind and engage the audience. Yet, when the emotionally shattering conclusion unfolds, the play does the one thing that it has seemingly been designed to avoid doing all along: it strikes the audience with a deep and profound conclusion that it resonates long past the viewing.
The show continues at Magnetic 375 through May 6, with shows on Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays at 7:30 PM.
New, lower ticket prices: $16